exception - Does C++ support 'finally' blocks? (And what's this 'RAII' I keep hearing about?)


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Does C++ support 'finally' blocks?

What is the RAII idiom?

What is the difference between C++'s RAII idiom and C#'s 'using' statement?


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    No, C++ does not support 'finally' blocks. The reason is that C++ instead supports RAII: "Resource Acquisition Is Initialization" -- a poor name for a really useful concept.

    The idea is that an object's destructor is responsible for freeing resources. When the object has automatic storage duration, the object's destructor will be called when the block in which it was created exits -- even when that block is exited in the presence of an exception. Here is Bjarne Stroustrup's explanation of the topic.

    A common use for RAII is locking a mutex:

    // A class with implements RAII
    class lock
    {
        mutex &m_;
    
    public:
        lock(mutex &m)
          : m_(m)
        {
            m.acquire();
        }
        ~lock()
        {
            m_.release();
        }
    };
    
    // A class which uses 'mutex' and 'lock' objects
    class foo
    {
        mutex mutex_; // mutex for locking 'foo' object
    public:
        void bar()
        {
            lock scopeLock(mutex_); // lock object.
    
            foobar(); // an operation which may throw an exception
    
            // scopeLock will be destructed even if an exception
            // occurs, which will release the mutex and allow
            // other functions to lock the object and run.
        }
    };
    

    RAII also simplifies using objects as members of other classes. When the owning class' is destructed, the resource managed by the RAII class gets released because the destructor for the RAII-managed class gets called as a result. This means that when you use RAII for all members in a class that manage resources, you can get away with using a very simple, maybe even the default, destructor for the owner class since it doesn't need to manually manage its member resource lifetimes. (Thanks to Mike B for pointing this out.)

    For those familliar with C# or VB.NET, you may recognize that RAII is similar to .NET deterministic destruction using IDisposable and 'using' statements. Indeed, the two methods are very similar. The main difference is that RAII will deterministically release any type of resource -- including memory. When implementing IDisposable in .NET (even the .NET language C++/CLI), resources will be deterministically released except for memory. In .NET, memory is not deterministically released; memory is only released during garbage collection cycles.

     

    † Some people believe that "Destruction is Resource Relinquishment" is a more accurate name for the RAII idiom.


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    In C++ the finally is NOT required because of RAII.

    RAII moves the responsibility of exception safety from the user of the object to the designer (and implementer) of the object. I would argue this is the correct place as you then only need to get exception safety correct once (in the design/implementation). By using finally you need to get exception safety correct every time you use an object.

    Also IMO the code looks neater (see below).

    Example:

    A database object. To make sure the DB connection is used it must be opened and closed. By using RAII this can be done in the constructor/destructor.

    C++ Like RAII

    void someFunc()
    {
        DB    db("DBDesciptionString");
        // Use the db object.
    
    } // db goes out of scope and destructor closes the connection.
      // This happens even in the presence of exceptions.
    

    The use of RAII makes using a DB object correctly very easy. The DB object will correctly close itself by the use of a destructor no matter how we try and abuse it.

    Java Like Finally

    void someFunc()
    {
        DB      db = new DB("DBDesciptionString");
        try
        {
            // Use the db object.
        }
        finally
        {
            // Can not rely on finaliser.
            // So we must explicitly close the connection.
            try
            {
                db.close();
            }
            catch(Throwable e)
            {
               /* Ignore */
               // Make sure not to throw exception if one is already propagating.
            }
        }
    }
    

    When using finally the correct use of the object is delegated to the user of the object. i.e. It is the responsibility of the object user to correctly to explicitly close the DB connection. Now you could argue that this can be done in the finaliser, but resources may have limited availability or other constraints and thus you generally do want to control the release of the object and not rely on the non deterministic behavior of the garbage collector.

    Also this is a simple example.
    When you have multiple resources that need to be released the code can get complicated.

    A more detailed analysis can be found here: http://accu.org/index.php/journals/236


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    RAII is usually better, but you can have easily the finally semantics in C++. Using a tiny amount of code.

    Besides, the C++ Core Guidelines give finally.

    Here is a link to the GSL Microsoft implementation and a link to the Martin Moene implementation

    Bjarne Stroustrup multiple times said that everything that is in the GSL it meant to go in the standard eventually. So it should be a future-proof way to use finally.

    You can easily implement yourself if you want though, continue reading.

    In C++11 RAII and lambdas allows to make a general finally:

    namespace detail { //adapt to your "private" namespace
    template <typename F>
    struct FinalAction {
        FinalAction(F f) : clean_{f} {}
       ~FinalAction() { if(enabled_) clean_(); }
        void disable() { enabled_ = false; };
      private:
        F clean_;
        bool enabled_{true}; }; }
    
    template <typename F>
    detail::FinalAction<F> finally(F f) {
        return detail::FinalAction<F>(f); }
    

    example of use:

    #include <iostream>
    int main() {
        int* a = new int;
        auto delete_a = finally([a] { delete a; std::cout << "leaving the block, deleting a!\n"; });
        std::cout << "doing something ...\n"; }
    

    the output will be:

    doing something...
    leaving the block, deleting a!
    

    Personally I used this few times to ensure to close POSIX file descriptor in a C++ program.

    Having a real class that manage resources and so avoids any kind of leaks is usually better, but this finally is useful in the cases where making a class sounds like an overkill.

    Besides, I like it better than other languages finally because if used naturally you write the closing code nearby the opening code (in my example the new and delete) and destruction follows construction in LIFO order as usual in C++. The only downside is that you get an auto variable you don't really use and the lambda syntax make it a little noisy (in my example in the fourth line only the word finally and the {}-block on the right are meaningful, the rest is essentially noise).

    Another example:

     [...]
     auto precision = std::cout.precision();
     auto set_precision_back = finally( [precision, &std::cout]() { std::cout << std::setprecision(precision); } );
     std::cout << std::setprecision(3);
    

    The disable member is useful if the finally has to be called only in case of failure. For example, you have to copy an object in three different containers, you can setup the finally to undo each copy and disable after all copies are successful. Doing so, if the destruction cannot throw, you ensure the strong guarantee.

    disable example:

    //strong guarantee
    void copy_to_all(BIGobj const& a) {
        first_.push_back(a);
        auto undo_first_push = finally([first_&] { first_.pop_back(); });
    
        second_.push_back(a);
        auto undo_second_push = finally([second_&] { second_.pop_back(); });
    
        third_.push_back(a);
        //no necessary, put just to make easier to add containers in the future
        auto undo_third_push = finally([third_&] { third_.pop_back(); });
    
        undo_first_push.disable();
        undo_second_push.disable();
        undo_third_push.disable(); }
    

    If you cannot use C++11 you can still have finally, but the code becomes a bit more long winded. Just define a struct with only a constructor and destructor, the constructor take references to anything needed and the destructor does the actions you need. This is basically what the lambda does, done manually.

    #include <iostream>
    int main() {
        int* a = new int;
    
        struct Delete_a_t {
            Delete_a_t(int* p) : p_(p) {}
           ~Delete_a_t() { delete p_; std::cout << "leaving the block, deleting a!\n"; }
            int* p_;
        } delete_a(a);
    
        std::cout << "doing something ...\n"; }
    

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    Beyond making clean up easy with stack-based objects, RAII is also useful because the same 'automatic' clean up occurs when the object is a member of another class. When the owning class is destructed, the resource managed by the RAII class gets cleaned up because the dtor for that class gets called as a result.

    This means that when you reach RAII nirvana and all members in a class use RAII (like smart pointers), you can get away with a very simple (maybe even default) dtor for the owner class since it doesn't need to manually manage its member resource lifetimes.


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    why is it that even managed languages provide a finally-block despite resources being deallocated automatically by the garbage collector anyway?

    Actually, languages based on Garbage collectors need "finally" more. A garbage collector does not destroy your objects in a timely manner, so it can not be relied upon to clean up non-memory related issues correctly.

    In terms of dynamically-allocated data, many would argue that you should be using smart-pointers.

    However...

    RAII moves the responsibility of exception safety from the user of the object to the designer

    Sadly this is its own downfall. Old C programming habits die hard. When you're using a library written in C or a very C style, RAII won't have been used. Short of re-writing the entire API front-end, that's just what you have to work with. Then the lack of "finally" really bites.


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    Sorry for digging up such an old thread, but there is a major error in the following reasoning:

    RAII moves the responsibility of exception safety from the user of the object to the designer (and implementer) of the object. I would argue this is the correct place as you then only need to get exception safety correct once (in the design/implementation). By using finally you need to get exception safety correct every time you use an object.

    More often than not, you have to deal with dynamically allocated objects, dynamic numbers of objects etc. Within the try-block, some code might create many objects (how many is determined at runtime) and store pointers to them in a list. Now, this is not an exotic scenario, but very common. In this case, you'd want to write stuff like

    void DoStuff(vector<string> input)
    {
      list<Foo*> myList;
    
      try
      {    
        for (int i = 0; i < input.size(); ++i)
        {
          Foo* tmp = new Foo(input[i]);
          if (!tmp)
            throw;
    
          myList.push_back(tmp);
        }
    
        DoSomeStuff(myList);
      }
      finally
      {
        while (!myList.empty())
        {
          delete myList.back();
          myList.pop_back();
        }
      }
    }
    

    Of course the list itself will be destroyed when going out of scope, but that wouldn't clean up the temporary objects you have created.

    Instead, you have to go the ugly route:

    void DoStuff(vector<string> input)
    {
      list<Foo*> myList;
    
      try
      {    
        for (int i = 0; i < input.size(); ++i)
        {
          Foo* tmp = new Foo(input[i]);
          if (!tmp)
            throw;
    
          myList.push_back(tmp);
        }
    
        DoSomeStuff(myList);
      }
      catch(...)
      {
      }
    
      while (!myList.empty())
      {
        delete myList.back();
        myList.pop_back();
      }
    }
    

    Also: why is it that even managed lanuages provide a finally-block despite resources being deallocated automatically by the garbage collector anyway?

    Hint: there's more you can do with "finally" than just memory deallocation.


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    Another "finally" block emulation using C++11 lambda functions

    template <typename TCode, typename TFinallyCode>
    inline void with_finally(const TCode &code, const TFinallyCode &finally_code)
    {
        try
        {
            code();
        }
        catch (...)
        {
            try
            {
                finally_code();
            }
            catch (...) // Maybe stupid check that finally_code mustn't throw.
            {
                std::terminate();
            }
            throw;
        }
        finally_code();
    }
    

    Let's hope the compiler will optimize the code above.

    Now we can write code like this:

    with_finally(
        [&]()
        {
            try
            {
                // Doing some stuff that may throw an exception
            }
            catch (const exception1 &)
            {
                // Handling first class of exceptions
            }
            catch (const exception2 &)
            {
                // Handling another class of exceptions
            }
            // Some classes of exceptions can be still unhandled
        },
        [&]() // finally
        {
            // This code will be executed in all three cases:
            //   1) exception was not thrown at all
            //   2) exception was handled by one of the "catch" blocks above
            //   3) exception was not handled by any of the "catch" block above
        }
    );
    

    If you wish you can wrap this idiom into "try - finally" macros:

    // Please never throw exception below. It is needed to avoid a compilation error
    // in the case when we use "begin_try ... finally" without any "catch" block.
    class never_thrown_exception {};
    
    #define begin_try    with_finally([&](){ try
    #define finally      catch(never_thrown_exception){throw;} },[&]()
    #define end_try      ) // sorry for "pascalish" style :(
    

    Now "finally" block is available in C++11:

    begin_try
    {
        // A code that may throw
    }
    catch (const some_exception &)
    {
        // Handling some exceptions
    }
    finally
    {
        // A code that is always executed
    }
    end_try; // Sorry again for this ugly thing
    

    Personally I don't like the "macro" version of "finally" idiom and would prefer to use pure "with_finally" function even though a syntax is more bulky in that case.

    You can test the code above here: http://coliru.stacked-crooked.com/a/1d88f64cb27b3813

    PS

    If you need a finally block in your code, then scoped guards or ON_FINALLY/ON_EXCEPTION macros will probably better fit your needs.

    Here is short example of usage ON_FINALLY/ON_EXCEPTION:

    void function(std::vector<const char*> &vector)
    {
        int *arr1 = (int*)malloc(800*sizeof(int));
        if (!arr1) { throw "cannot malloc arr1"; }
        ON_FINALLY({ free(arr1); });
    
        int *arr2 = (int*)malloc(900*sizeof(int));
        if (!arr2) { throw "cannot malloc arr2"; }
        ON_FINALLY({ free(arr2); });
    
        vector.push_back("good");
        ON_EXCEPTION({ vector.pop_back(); });
    
        ...
    

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    FWIW, Microsoft Visual C++ does support try,finally and it has historically been used in MFC apps as a method of catching serious exceptions that would otherwise result in a crash. For example;

    int CMyApp::Run() 
    {
        __try
        {
            int i = CWinApp::Run();
            m_Exitok = MAGIC_EXIT_NO;
            return i;
        }
        __finally
        {
            if (m_Exitok != MAGIC_EXIT_NO)
                FaultHandler();
        }
    }
    

    I've used this in the past to do things like save backups of open files prior to exit. Certain JIT debugging settings will break this mechanism though.


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    As pointed out in the other answers, C++ can support finally-like functionality. The implementation of this functionality that is probably closest to being part of the standard language is the one accompanying the C++ Core Guidelines, a set of best practices for using C++ edited by Bjarne Stoustrup and Herb Sutter. An implementation of finally is part of the Guidelines Support Library (GSL). Throughout the Guidelines, use of finally is recommended when dealing with old-style interfaces, and it also has a guideline of its own, titled Use a final_action object to express cleanup if no suitable resource handle is available.

    So, not only does C++ support finally, it is actually recommended to use it in a lot of common use-cases.

    An example use of the GSL implementation would look like:

    #include <gsl/gsl_util.h>
    
    void example()
    {
        int handle = get_some_resource();
        auto handle_clean = gsl::finally([&handle] { clean_that_resource(handle); });
    
        // Do a lot of stuff, return early and throw exceptions.
        // clean_that_resource will always get called.
    }
    

    The GSL implementation and usage is very similar to the one in Paolo.Bolzoni's answer. One difference is that the object created by gsl::finally() lacks the disable() call. If you need that functionality (say, to return the resource once it's assembled and no exceptions are bound to happen), you might prefer Paolo's implementation. Otherwise, using GSL is as close to using standardized features as you will get.


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    Not really, but you can emulate them to some extend, for example:

    int * array = new int[10000000];
    try {
      // Some code that can throw exceptions
      // ...
      throw std::exception();
      // ...
    } catch (...) {
      // The finally-block (if an exception is thrown)
      delete[] array;
      // re-throw the exception.
      throw; 
    }
    // The finally-block (if no exception was thrown)
    delete[] array;
    

    Note that the finally-block might itself throw an exception before the original exception is re-thrown, thereby discarding the original exception. This is the exact same behavior as in a Java finally-block. Also, you cannot use return inside the try&catch blocks.


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    I came up with a finally macro that can be used almost like¹ the finally keyword in Java; it makes use of std::exception_ptr and friends, lambda functions and std::promise, so it requires C++11 or above; it also makes use of the compound statement expression GCC extension, which is also supported by clang.

    WARNING: an earlier version of this answer used a different implementation of the concept with many more limitations.

    First, let's define a helper class.

    #include <future>
    
    template <typename Fun>
    class FinallyHelper {
        template <typename T> struct TypeWrapper {};
        using Return = typename std::result_of<Fun()>::type;
    
    public:    
        FinallyHelper(Fun body) {
            try {
                execute(TypeWrapper<Return>(), body);
            }
            catch(...) {
                m_promise.set_exception(std::current_exception());
            }
        }
    
        Return get() {
            return m_promise.get_future().get();
        }
    
    private:
        template <typename T>
        void execute(T, Fun body) {
            m_promise.set_value(body());
        }
    
        void execute(TypeWrapper<void>, Fun body) {
            body();
        }
    
        std::promise<Return> m_promise;
    };
    
    template <typename Fun>
    FinallyHelper<Fun> make_finally_helper(Fun body) {
        return FinallyHelper<Fun>(body);
    }
    

    Then there's the actual macro.

    #define try_with_finally for(auto __finally_helper = make_finally_helper([&] { try 
    #define finally });                         \
            true;                               \
            ({return __finally_helper.get();})) \
    /***/
    

    It can be used like this:

    void test() {
        try_with_finally {
            raise_exception();
        }    
    
        catch(const my_exception1&) {
            /*...*/
        }
    
        catch(const my_exception2&) {
            /*...*/
        }
    
        finally {
            clean_it_all_up();
        }    
    }
    

    The use of std::promise makes it very easy to implement, but it probably also introduces quite a bit of unneeded overhead which could be avoided by reimplementing only the needed functionalities from std::promise.


    ¹ CAVEAT: there are a few things that don't work quite like the java version of finally. Off the top of my head:

    1. it's not possible to break from an outer loop with the break statement from within the try and catch()'s blocks, since they live within a lambda function;
    2. there must be at least one catch() block after the try: it's a C++ requirement;
    3. if the function has a return value other than void but there's no return within the try and catch()'s blocks, compilation will fail because the finally macro will expand to code that will want to return a void. This could be, err, avoided by having a finally_noreturn macro of sorts.

    All in all, I don't know if I'd ever use this stuff myself, but it was fun playing with it. :)


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    I have a use case where I think finally should be a perfectly acceptable part of the C++11 language, as I think it is easier to read from a flow point of view. My use case is a consumer/producer chain of threads, where a sentinel nullptr is sent at the end of the run to shut down all threads.

    If C++ supported it, you would want your code to look like this:

        extern Queue downstream, upstream;
    
        int Example()
        {
            try
            {
               while(!ExitRequested())
               {
                 X* x = upstream.pop();
                 if (!x) break;
                 x->doSomething();
                 downstream.push(x);
               } 
            }
            finally { 
                downstream.push(nullptr);
            }
        }
    

    I think this is more logical that putting your finally declaration at the start of the loop, since it occurs after the loop has exited... but that is wishful thinking because we can't do it in C++. Note that the queue downstream is connected to another thread, so you can't put in the sentinel push(nullptr) in the destructor of downstream because it can't be destroyed at this point... it needs to stay alive until the other thread receives the nullptr.

    So here is how to use a RAII class with lambda to do the same:

        class Finally
        {
        public:
    
            Finally(std::function<void(void)> callback) : callback_(callback)
            {
            }
            ~Finally()
            {
                callback_();
            }
            std::function<void(void)> callback_;
        };
    

    and here is how you use it:

        extern Queue downstream, upstream;
    
        int Example()
        {
            Finally atEnd([](){ 
               downstream.push(nullptr);
            });
            while(!ExitRequested())
            {
               X* x = upstream.pop();
               if (!x) break;
               x->doSomething();
               downstream.push(x);
            }
        }
    

  • Translate

    As many people have stated, the solution is to use C++11 features to avoid finally blocks. One of the features is unique_ptr.

    Here is Mephane's answer written using RAII patterns.

    #include <vector>
    #include <memory>
    #include <list>
    using namespace std;
    
    class Foo
    {
     ...
    };
    
    void DoStuff(vector<string> input)
    {
        list<unique_ptr<Foo> > myList;
    
        for (int i = 0; i < input.size(); ++i)
        {
          myList.push_back(unique_ptr<Foo>(new Foo(input[i])));
        }
    
        DoSomeStuff(myList);
    }
    

    Some more introduction to using unique_ptr with C++ Standard Library containers is here


  • Translate

    I would like to provide an alternative.

    If you want finally block to be called always, just put it after last catch block (which probably should be catch( ... ) to catch not known exception)

    try{
       // something that might throw exception
    } catch( ... ){
       // what to do with uknown exception
    }
    
    //final code to be called always,
    //don't forget that it might throw some exception too
    doSomeCleanUp(); 
    

    If you want finally block as a last thing to do when any exception is thrown you can use boolean local variable - before run you set it to false and put true assignment at the very end of try block, then after catch block check for the variable value:

    bool generalAppState = false;
    try{
       // something that might throw exception
    
       //the very end of try block:
       generalAppState = true;
    } catch( ... ){
       // what to do with uknown exception
    }
    
    //final code to be called only when exception was thrown,
    //don't forget that it might throw some exception too
    if( !generalAppState ){
       doSomeCleanUpOfDirtyEnd();
    }
    
    //final code to be called only when no exception is thrown
    //don't forget that it might throw some exception too
    else{
       cleanEnd();
    }
    

  • Translate
    try
    {
      ...
      goto finally;
    }
    catch(...)
    {
      ...
      goto finally;
    }
    finally:
    {
      ...
    }
    

  • Translate

    I also think that RIIA is not a fully useful replacement for exception handling and having a finally. BTW, I also think RIIA is a bad name all around. I call these types of classes 'janitors' and use them a LOT. 95% of the time they are neither initializing nor acquiring resources, they are applying some change on a scoped basis, or taking something already set up and making sure it's destroyed. This being the official pattern name obsessed internet I get abused for even suggesting my name might be better.

    I just don't think it's reasonable to require that that every complicated setup of some ad hoc list of things has to have a class written to contain it in order to avoid complications when cleaning it all back up in the face of needing to catch multiple exception types if something goes wrong in the process. This would lead to lots of ad hoc classes that just wouldn't be necessary otherwise.

    Yes it's fine for classes that are designed to manage a particular resource, or generic ones that are designed to handle a set of similar resources. But, even if all of the things involved have such wrappers, the coordination of cleanup may not just be a simple in reverse order invocation of destructors.

    I think it makes perfect sense for C++ to have a finally. I mean, jeez, so many bits and bobs have been glued onto it over the last decades that it seems odd folks would suddenly become conservative over something like finally which could be quite useful and probably nothing near as complicated as some other things that have been added (though that's just a guess on my part.)